I have been slowly gathering a cobbled-together list of books that C.S. Lewis read during Lent. Part of the problem is that, due to the humble nature of Lent, one does not boast of one’s reading. I knew that he read Dorothy L. Sayers‘ The Man Born to be King leading up to each Easter, but I thought there could be more gems there for the rest of us.
As it turns out, another season of Lent has come upon us and I have not finished the list.
I did, however, run across a list in the diary of C.S. Lewis’ brother, Warren H. Lewis. The note suggests, I think, that Warren was feeling low at this time:
Monday 30th March (Easter Monday), 1959
Another Lent over, and I make a note of my doings; not as a Pharisee, but that if I am spared until Lent 1960, I may do better. (1). I was a teetoller, drank tea for breakfast, and had only bread and butter on Friday mornings. (2). I attended evensong on Sundays, in addition to my usual services….
Warren Lewis then sets out the books that he read in Lent 1959:
- J.B. Phillips’ Letters to Young Churches (1947, a modern translation of the New Testament letter, prefaced by C.S. Lewis)
- François Maruiac, Life of Jesus (1937)
- G.K. Chesterton, Everlasting Man (1925)
- F.W. Robertson, Sermons Preached at Brighton (1847-1853)
- Henry Latham, Pastor Pastorum: or, The Schooling of the Apostles by our Lord (1890)
I suspect this is a sufficiently different Lenten reading list from anything you’ve seen before! If Lent is a season for shaping, this list is certainly designed to do that.
Warren Lewis ends his diary entry like this:
And when set down, how trifling it all seems.
It strikes me as the kind of reading list of a serious Anglican of my younger years. I think I benefitted much from people like him of that time. The reference to his struggle with alcohol is, of course, deeply moving.
To be honest, reading sermons doesn’t interest me that much. Still, if you want rigour in Lent, that is a kind of rigour.
The alcohol struggle rolls through his journal, sometimes in self-delusion, sometimes depression, but with little notes of victory.
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One of my favourite discoveries in reading to my children as they were growing up was Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse. Goudge was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman and later the wife of another and lived her whole life in that culture. Her wonderful Miss Heliotrope insists that Maria Merryweather should read sermons on a Sunday afternoon in order to improve her. But she wonderfully contrasts this with the sermon given by Old Parson at church that same day which both exhilarated and frightened Maria at one and the same time. There is little doubt where Goudge’s sympathies lay although she loves Miss Heliotrope very much. A sermon is a lived experience even in these over stimulated times. I can’t think of the last time I read a sermon although I have done so in the past.
As to Warren Lewis, my prayer is that he now knows the comfort that the bottle gave him, at least for a moment, before the misery hit.
I am reading Geo Macdonald’s “Unspoken Sermons.” I chose to listen to the voluntary reader on Librivox. The reader is just okay, but still my mind wanders. I take notes even at church. It is one of my best friends preaching, but if I don’t take notes I’ll go elsewhere. And when I do go elsewhere, I check out altogether!
Sermons aren’t my cup of cold water. I prefer a lecture or story. And my own preaching–I do 6 or 7 a years–tugs between narrative and teaching.
I’ve been thinking that about Warren. I’m speaking at a youth conference this spring, and might talk about how our own guilt can undermine our faith. I wonder if his faith could find its way to self-forgiveness.
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I think that every preacher, teacher inevitably develops their own style. As for me I develop a sense of the integrity of the person I am listening to. Some of that is inevitably projection. I am struck by the stuff folk in church project onto me so I am sure that I must do it to others. Bur if I develop a sense that this is a person that I respect then I am willing to listen to what they say. In your case I have been reading your material for a while now and so when I watched your talk in the pub I was delighted to find that you are an engaging speaker too! By the way may I put a link to that talk onto my next blog post? I will be saying farewell to Frodo and Sam for a while and your concluding remarks are very much a point that I would like to make.
On Warren, guilt certainly does undermine faith as a lived experience. I have been thinking about the Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh who certainly drunk himself to death. But there was a period in his life (the years following a successful treatment for cancer) when he achieved a luminosity in his work that enriches me greatly. I wonder if in each of us it is what Julian of Norwich would describe as that part that has never said yes to sin that counts. And there is a charm even in Kavanagh’s dereliction as I found in a YouTube search that threw up Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners telling a story of he and Kavanagh searching for a pub from which neither of them have been banned! To quote Kavanagh may we find “a life with a shapely form, with gaiety and charm, and capable of receiving, with grace, the grace of living, and wild moments too, self, when freed from you.”
Heavy going there, for sure. It’s always interesting to me how much “more” people back in the day did when it comes to reading. More of it, and books that had much more depth and meat. Nowadays it seems we are training the young to only read things that take thirty seconds or less and come with some kind of “click-bait” title…”She folded her laundry and you’ll never guess what happened next!” I do despair of us sometimes.
Tis heavy going. Are you going to do a year of reading 19th century sermons!? 😉
We do suffer from the drive-thru reading experience. I suffer from it and am a strong reader. With our 11 year old, who loves reading, we keep books in front of him and challenge him with harder things. We also tend to select excellent reading–and still read to him most days. I’m on “Return of the King,” and my partner is on #2 or #3 of Harry Potter.
I’ll have to write a book titled “The Sexiness of Laundry.” It will be a theology book, but who knows who will buy it!
Don’t despair. Keep writing. You are converting people, albeit slowly. I know you share with me the hope of publishing. Still on my blog I have a few hundred readers (about 100,000 hits a year). If I encourage them on in harder and better readings, going deeper and longer, as much as they encourage me, I think we’ll see a cultural shift over a generation. It will be the reading equivalent of Michael Jackson tribute band.
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